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Volume I, Number 6, June, 2003

Shock and Awe Campaign Hits Schools

Few people have awakened to the damage likely to result from Washington's current approach to school reform. While the proponents of NCLB (AKA Helter-Skelter) like to claim that its strategies are based on sound scientific evidence, that claim collapses under scrutiny.

For a preview of the damage coming to our schools and our children, take a look at recent developments in Florida.

A Pupil Held Back, a Heavier Burden

May 21, 2003 By MICHAEL WINERIP in the New York Times.

"For the first time, Florida third graders must pass a reading test or be held back, and earlier this month Gov. Jeb Bush announced that 23 percent - 43,000 - had flunked."

Paige Approves Florida State Accountability Plan Under No Child Left Behind

MIAMI, Fla. -- Florida has completed work on its plan for a strong state accountability system aligned with the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001, U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige announced today. Paige made the announcement at Skyway Elementary School, where he was joined by Florida Commissioner of Education Jim Horne, teachers, parents, students and other local leaders.

"Florida is building on a rich heritage of standards, assessments and accountability," Paige said. "In addition, this sunshine state has adopted their writing assessments as an additional measure of academic achievement, attesting to its commitment to high standards and academic excellence.

"By offering parental choice and committing to a strong accountability system," Paige adds, "Florida has pledged to improve the quality of education for each child. I congratulate Commissioner Horne for taking these important steps. Florida's solid plans to implement the provisions of NCLB put the state firmly on the path to ensuring that no child is left behind."

As Florida goes, so goes the nation?

We are witnessing a set of change strategies that can inflict huge damage on children and their families - strategies that are unsupported by credible scientific evidence of their value and efficacy.

Students become better readers, thinkers and performers when teachers intervene to increase their capacities. Capacity building is the key - not retention.

Spending another year at a grade level repeating the content of that grade has not been proven beneficial.

Claims of scientific decision-making are unsubstantiated.

The Changes Unwelcome,
a Model Teacher Moves On

May 28, 2003 By MICHAEL WINERIP in the New York Times.

"A single high-stakes test score is now measuring Florida's children, leaving little time to devote to their character or potential or talents or depth of knowledge," she wrote.

"Kindergarten teachers throughout the state have replaced valued learning centers (home center, art center, blocks, dramatic play) with paper and pencil tasks, dittos, coloring sheets, scripted lessons, workbook pages."

To the contrary, reports such as "Research on Retention and Social Promotion: Synthesis and Implications for Policy" a NCERC Policy Brief, January 1999, call into question the value of the Florida strategies, especially when lack of funding because of the weak Bush economy makes it impossible to offer quality programs.

Overall Conclusion
Neither social promotion nor retention leads to high performance. If the goal is to bring
low-performing students up to the higher standards now being asserted across the nation, neither retention nor social promotion is effective. In different studies, one or the other has been found to offer an advantage, but neither has been found to offer a large, lasting advantage, and neither leads to high performance.12

The report, which is available in PDF format at goes on to explore alternatives to both social promotion and retention, finding that there are many capacity building interventions (such as summer school and intense tutoring) that may serve children better than either.

The Governor has acknowledged the need to build capacity and has promised to provide programs toward that end.

"Bush unveils program to help students improve reading skills" - Tuesday, April 15, 2003 - Associated Press
The initiative promises summer reading camps this year, reading mentors, workshops for parents and extra training for 6,000 teachers. For online assistance, the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test web page will add a "fun and interactive" reading section in June aimed at helping struggling third grade readers.

But many Florida districts are complaining that the state is not funding this program and has passed the burden down to the local districts.

Web posted Monday, May 26, 2003
Counties scramble to start reading camps By KEN THOMAS - Associated Press
"It's an unfunded mandate, basically what it is. We don't have the revenues," said David Miller, president of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents and superintendent in Wakulla County south of Tallahassee. "The state's not funding it -- we're expected to fund it."

The article reports research on the effectiveness of various types of summer intervention programs and shows that certain characteristics have a high impact on results. Given the weakness of state funding in Florida, most Florida counties will not be able to provide the kinds of long, well developed programs that have proven most beneficial in places like Los Angeles.

A report by John Schacter of the Milken Foundation cited on the Federal "No Child Left Behind" Web site, "Preventing Summer Reading Loss During Summer Break," outlines five conditions for successful programs that are unlikely to be met by the underfunded Florida "experiment."

Schacter bases his conditions on research he conducted. A summary of his findings is available at

1. Implement a research-based reading curriculum.

2. Start early. Most summer school programs across the country start too late in the child's academic career (e.g., third grade).

3. Make summer learning fun.

4. Intervene for eight weeks instead of four. Most summer schools are four or six weeks. This is too short of a time to develop consistency and make headway with young learners.

5. Tutor summer learners the following school year. Do not stop working with students who need it most just because they are back in school.

"Reducing Social Inequality in Elementary School Reading Achievement: Establishing Summer Literacy Day Camps for Disadvantaged Children." By John Schacter, Ph.D.

As pointed out in other articles this month, the Department of Education is making unsubstantiated claims for scientific decision-making. In the case of Florida, the strategies being employed as part of the approved plan do not meet the standards published by the Department in Schacter's article.

© 2003, Jamie McKenzie, all rights reserved. This article may be e-mailed to individuals by individuals, but all other duplication, distribution, publication and use is prohibited without first receiving explicit permission. Contact for information.
What can you do to change this law before it does great damage to the schools and children in your state and town?
  1. Subscribe to "No Child Left" to stay informed about efforts to repeal NCLB. Click here.
  2. Speak with the school board members, administrators and teachers in your community to learn how NCLB will change schools and learning in your town.
  3. Start communicating with your Senators and Representatives to let them know you want this law changed to put more emphasis on capacity building and support rather than testing and punishment.
  4. Write letters to the editor of your local newspaper expressing your concerns. Illustrate the dangers of this law with specific and compelling examples.
  5. Emphasize concrete alternatives that would do more to improve the futures of disadvantaged children.

A List of ESEA (NCLB) Amendments

1. Fund social programs that impact school readiness so that all children actually enter school ready to learn as the first President Bush promised long ago.

2. Fund capacity building (enhanced teaching and learning) in districts and districts for several years before engaging in punishing labels and reckless choice provisions. Capacity building might mean providing hundreds of hours of training in effective reading strategies, for example. But it does not mean training everybody in a single highly scripted program endorsed by the administration for pseudo-scientific reasons.

3. Devote public money to truly public schools. Be careful not to divert funds to reckless experiments or diploma mills.

4. Fund enough construction of new schools within public systems so parental choice is real.

5. Support informed school choice within public systems.

6. Emphasize rewards and incentives rather than sanctions.

7. Hold all publicly funded schools to standards for performance and quality, whether actually private, charter or truly public. Be careful about simplistic notions of high stakes testing.

8. Fund recruitment and preparation of effective teachers and aides from all racial and economic groups to close the gap between current staffing levels and what is desirable.

9. End the insulting, broad brush assaults on teachers and administrators struggling against difficult challenges.

10. Capitalize on the good research conducted to discover what works best in schools and avoid simplistic panaceas and platitudes imported from the world of business and medicine.

11. Enrich the options available to all children. Forswear tightly scripted, robotic programs and the fast food approaches to school improvement.

12. Build school improvement on a richly defined foundation of alternatives and strategies.

13. Eliminate Trojan horses, hidden agendas and shameful politics from ESEA.

14. Stop using Madison Avenue techniques to hide the harsh realities of so-called compassionate conservatism.